Tag Archives: Nigerian

Idu uno-Nigerian (Igbo) Marriage Traditions

Context: This is the last step that a man must take in order to get married. My mom learned these from her father and my dad learned the process from his own father. They value this tradition heavily and my dad underwent this process when he married my mom.

  • Idu uno
    • This process is where the father of the bride and his kingsman buy everything that the bride needs in her new household. They will buy her a fridge, stove, furniture, and anything else she will need in her new life as a wife. The father of the bride could also give them land to cultivate or provide them with a home and car to start their lives with. The mother of the bride and her fellow women will also give the bride things for her new life by buying all the things she will need for her kitchen.
    • Young men of the community will then play music and accompany the bride to the husband’s parent’s house. All of the items for the bride will be brought to her new inlaws home. The young men of the community will request compensation from their elders. The parents of the groom must present a specific amount of kola and tobacco before the young men move the items inside their home. The leader of the young men will then break kola for the new bride and will see her into her new home along with other young women of the community.
      • Thoughts: In this final step, family and community are especially highlighted in more elaborate gestures of care. It was really cool listening to this process because it’s not something I have witnessed in American weddings. While in American weddings the bride and groom do receive gifts, it’s not to the extent that a procession is undertaken to not only give the bride everything she needs but also help her move in. When I was in Nigeria last winter, I actually got to see this step of the marriage rights take place. The bride was ushered into the home of her husband’s parents and the men of the community would one by one carry gifts into the house. Gifts ranged from bags of rice to whole fridges and stoves, and even whole plots of land. This was amazing to hear because it highlights how united the family and community are in rallying behind the newlyweds. The community as a whole wants to make sure that the new union is prosperous and wants nothing but the best. I appreciate this gesture because I got to see how happy and warm the newlyweds were. Knowing that the community around them is all in support of them, it is a perfect way to kick off a happy union. 

Bride-price~Nigerian (Igbo) Marriage Traditions

Context: This is the second step that a man must take in order to get married. My mom learned these from her father and my dad learned the process from his own father. They value this tradition heavily and my dad underwent this process when he married my mom.

  • Bride-price
    • The bride price is a token for raising a wonderful young lady and paid by the parents of the prospective groom. Once the bride price is presented the money is divided to the father and his kingsmen[uncles, cousins…etc], the mother[sisters, cousins..etc], the uncle, and the auntie partake in the money. 
      • Thoughts: I found this step to be very interesting to me. When I was listening to my parents explain this my initial thoughts were that it appeared that I was going to be sold off and married when I was old enough, however, my perceptions changed when they told me why this payment was so significant. A bride-price is not a means for which a man pays to marry a person, instead, it is a symbolic gesture paid by the prospective groom to give thanks to the family of the woman he intends to marry. The bride price is an offering of thanks for raising such a well brought up a young woman who the man now wants to marry. It was really interesting learning about this marriage custom, and I hope to witness this process one day or possibly the day that I or a female member of my family will be approached by someone who wants to marry us.

Inyo uno-Nigerian (Igbo) Marriage Tradition

Context: This is the first step that a man must take in order to get married. My mom learned these from her father and my dad learned the process from his own father. They value this tradition heavily and my dad underwent this process when he married my mom.

  • Inyo uno
    • If a man wants to marry a maiden, he must go to the home of the maiden’s father accompanied by his kingsmen[family members]. With them, the man must bring hot drink [alcohol] and kola nuts[object of prayer and goodwill] to tell the parents of the maiden that he wants to marry their daughter. He must break the kola nut with the girl’s family and give them the kola nut and hot drink that he brought for the girl’s parents to keep. The parents of the girl then think over the marriage request and look into the man’s past and his family’s past to check for illness, health issues, and bad qualities like lying or theft. Once the parents are satisfied and they determine the man is good, they will call their family members and will break the kola and drink the hot drink brought by the man in question. Once this has been done, they will call the man’s family and start making arrangements.
      • Thoughts: I found this step interesting because of the process of asking for someone’s hand in marriage. The dialogue between the prospective groom and the parents of the family is very structured and there are specific steps that have to be followed[i.e. bringing your kingsman and bringing kola and hot drink as an offering]. In addition, the prospective groom really has no means of telling whether he has done enough to appease the parents. The man engages in this grand gesture, bringing kola nut and hot drink [symbols of his marriage request] and presenting them to the women’s parents as a sacred offering. What further intrigued me was the full background check undertaken by the parents of the prospective bride, in that they would extensively move through the family history of the man in question and make sure that he presented no bad traits that would make him unfit for marriage. If the prospective groom is found to be unfit for marriage, traditionally the parents will not support the union and their daughter will not be getting married. This a very interesting marriage custom and appears to be the most crucial before any real steps towards a union can take place.

Libation- Folk Religious Practice

  • Context: Libation is a form of prayer and is an African tradition. We pray through our ancestors to commune with God. Our ancestors are our guardian angels and we pray through them because of their honesty, purity, and integrity. We call on our male and female ancestors and call on the female ancestors specifically because they are the matriarchs and life-givers of any family. 
  • Performance
    • What does one have to wear white?
      • During libation, if you are an ozo titleholder, meaning you are a member of the ancient Agbalanze Society of Onitsha responsible for preserving the culture and traditions of Onitsha, during prayer you have to wear white. If you are the odipka of the entire clan, you have to wear complete white with an eagle feather attached to your hat. The eagle feather is a sign of purity. 
    • What is said and done?
      • All prayer is done in our dialect Igbo regardless of outside presence[English is off limits]. The one who is praying[my dad] must sit on antelope, goat, or lion skin that has been dried to mark a sign of royalty. In order to pray effectively, you must be one with your inner spirit and be pure of heart. During prayer, your feet have to be planted to the ground, as it marks a physical connection to the ground and is a connection to our ancestors. You first call out your family members by name and raise the four lobes kola nut[ prayer offering] and call out God. You ask God to take the gift of the kola nut and ask him to come to be with us as we give thanks for all that he has done for our family. Then you shift and call on all our ancestors, as far back as you can recall their names. You will call each ancestor[great-great grandparents, grandparents, and in-law]. You should call male names first and then female names. Once you address your ancestors, you now call on all of the deities of your ancestors and ask them to continue to bless and guide the family. Then you give blessings and prayer to each member of the family[mom, brother, me, and dad]. You end the prayer by asking all of the deities, ancestors, and God to come and partake in the breaking of the kola nut.

Thoughts: The process of doing libation was something that I never really understood when I was younger. In fact, Sunday libation was something that I always found to be annoying or forced because in my young mind it just meant that I was stuck in one place, unable to move or go out and play. However, not that I am older I have come to understand its immense value and meaning. When my dad prays during libation, he makes it clear that at times he is not the one talking. During his prayer, it is as though our ancestors are speaking through him, calling my mom, brother, and I together as a family and giving thanks for our life, health, and continued well being. My dad is a very spiritual person, believing that the spirit of our ancestors are always with him and his family and are all around protecting us from evil and harm. My dad prays for each and every one of us, wishing for good health, that I and my brother achieve our goals and succeed in life, and that no evil shall befall his family and our extended family back in Nigeria. Now that I am older, I understand the value of the prayer and oftentimes feel a connection to my ancestors like my dad. There are moments where I truly believe that figures like my late grandfather are watching over me and allow me to overcome challenges that I may not be able to do by myself. When I went to Nigeria last winter, I was able to visit my grandfather’s grave and listen to my dad’s prayer. This was a very impactful moment in my life because it really made me realize and understand why libation, why prayer, and ultimately why spirituality in my family is so important in our day to day life. My dad acts as the spiritual anchor of our family and through his prayers, he passes messages and thoughts to my brother and me, maintaining the connection to those before us. I believe that sooner or later I will start learning how to tap into my spirituality further and eventually start channeling our ancestors like my dad and his dad before him.

How the Tortoise Got Its Cracked Shell

Interviewee:

“There is a lot of animal folklore in Nigeria. I used to hear this one story all the time when I was little. It goes like this:

There was once a great drought in all the land. So the animals gathered to try and make a plan. It was decided that the tortoise, due to his charm and manner of speaking, would fly up to heaven with the birds in order to bring food down. As he flew, he told the birds that at such times it is important to change your name. So he told them his name was “all of you.” They got to heaven (and the feast) and God said the food was for “all of you.” The tortoise gorged himself. The birds got mad and left, but the tortoise begged them to tell his wife to put soft things by his house so that he could jump and fall from heaven safely. The birds told his wife the opposite and the tortoise jumped and broke his shell.

I’ve heard that one a million times. There are many Nigerian folktales about the cunning tortoise.”

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This story reminds me of many tales that revolve around how an animal or other natural phenomenon came to be. It is a way of explaining the world around us before science or other explanations came about to replace tales. The cunning tortoise is a recurring character in Nigerian folklore, representing craftiness and outsmarting others, often at his own expense.

The Significance of Yams in Nigeria

new_yam_festival2

My friend grew up in Nigeria before coming to the US for college. He says yams are life in Nigeria.

Friend:“The yam is the staple food and therefore a measure of masculinity and wealth. If a family has a lot of yams, you’re rich because you can feed your family. This makes you a strong man. Yams are equated to life in Igbo culture. Nigeria is the leading producer of yams in the world, so of course they are a big deal to us.”

Me: Do you still have family who farm yams?

Friend: “My father does not farm yams, but my grandfather did, and his father before him. When my grandfather got married, he had to present his yams to my grandmother’s family to prove he could provide for her, which is a fairly typical custom in Nigeria.”

Me: Is there anything specific about how yams are farmed that makes them special?

Friend: “On some farms in Nigeria, the women aren’t allowed to go to the farm until harvest time. Then the women do all of the harvest work. It’s superstition I guess. There are many people today who still grow yams. Yams are featured at any big gathering or at any holiday meal.”

 

Analysis: Many cultures have some form of staple food. For the Irish, potatoes are an important part of sustenance, and therefore are a large part of how people live. Because of this, a simple food like a potato, or yam, can come to have symbolic meaning.  What a family produces in terms of yams, and how it relates to masculinity is extremely interesting, given that yams are an unpredictable measure of success. One year, the harvest could be plentiful and the weather perfect. The next year, however, bad luck could lead to very few yams. Another aspect of this folklore worth noting is that while the men do the initial farming, the women do the harvesting. Perhaps this relates to the hunter/gatherer trope, but a man’s worth relies on work which is half done by women.

Nigerian Udara Song

This is a recording of my informant’s mom singing a Nigerian folk song about the Udara, a fruit common in Nigeria. Her mom would sing it to her often when she was younger. The story behind it contains the classic evil stepmother and a magical element. The translation is as follows:

My udara, produce fruits

produce fruits, produce fruits, produce fruits

produce fruits for the motherless

produce fruits for the fatherless

My father’s wife bought Udara from the market

Ate all with her children

Gave none to the motherless

gave none to the fatherless

This life is vain

one is born

one is gone

It is from a story about a boy whose mother dies and is left with a stepmother that buys fruits for her children but not for him. He finds an udara tree and begins singing to it, and it produces fruit for him. The stepmother sees this, so when he is gone one day they come and try to sing to the tree and get its fruit. He catches them, and sings to the tree that it carries the one of the children up far away. The stepmother and other children apologize and agree to treat him well in the future, so he sings again and the  tree brings the other kid back down. They never treated him bad again.

 

For the published version of this story and a longer version of the song, see:

Ebegbulem, Celestine. African Stories by Moonlight. S.l.: Authorhouse, 2014. Print.

Nigerian Lullaby

“So my sophomore year, one of my acting professors was this big crazy guy that did a lot of volunteer work around the world. He was like, really big into using theatre as therapy and stuff like that, and he goes to Nigeria every few years to work with the people there, and give aid, and use theatre to help them deal with the situation over there. And anyway, he taught us this song, which is a Nigerian lullaby, and its a round. And I don’t remember if he actually told us what it meant, no one in the class remembers what it meant, and we might even be singing the wrong words. But we like sing it, the people in my acting class, that took that class with him sing it. We use it as a warm up song before performances, because its pretty gentle on the voice, and also sometimes when we get together, and we’ve been drinking we sing it, because everyone knows the tune, and its a round so it sounds good without people having to know how to create harmonies and stuff like that.”

Nigerian Lullaby

 

I find it remarkable that the song has really been re-purposed from a lullaby to essentially a drinking song by the group of actors, who really don’t know what the song means, and could be singing the wrong words anyway. I think it’s a testament that certain sounds, like harmonies are almost universally pleasing. I don’t believe the meaning of the song is the reason people in Nigeria still sing it to their children, but rather that the sounds are relaxing and pleasing to the ear. That’s why people from cultures as disparate as Nigeria and the United States can find so much enjoyment in the same tune.